This entry will be long and painful. It spans 3 days and does not have nearly as many awesome photos as it should, because sometimes the road is not throwing exciting things at you all the time, and sometimes you just get dog tired of it. And sometimes you just need a break so you can go for that last stretch with a refreshed mind.
Our last morning in Newfoundland was marked by some friendly conversation with a few Québecois travellers at the breakfast table and a hearty meal. Despite being from Gaspe, they nevertheless have not visited the Gaspesie National Park. It still keeps surprising me: not a single person we’ve met on our several trips visited that beautiful part of Québec. Oh well, I guess it will be our open secret.
The ride to Channel-Port aux Basques is about 500km, which is not too much, but not a joy ride either. We tried getting some information about our ferry, but still could not reach anyone. Our ferry was scheduled for 1:30 am, so we planned to explore the side roads as much as daylight allowed, and then just wait at the Tim Hortons near the port. The notice on the Marine Atlantic website said that passengers would be notified of any changes, and so far no one contacted us, so we went off to TCH and pushed on until Corner Brook. There we decided to stop for a lunch break, having gotten tired after almost 3 hours of boring highway travel. Few things are as bland as the inner section of the Trans Canada Highway in Newfoundland, especially considering how colourful their coastal roads are.
At first we wanted to get some sushi, but the place we found was too busy at lunchtime, so we circled the town a bit more until we found a small Italian restaurant that was quiet and almost empty. Their food was the first thing that day notable enough for a photo, so here goes.
We spent a really long time in that restaurant, resting and considering our immediate plans. We still could not find any updated information about the ferry, so we thought it best to just get to Port Aux Basques as soon as possible, and then explore highway 470 for as long as we had time. This highway goes east from the port, along the southern shores to communities with romantic names such as Isle Aux Morts, Burnt Islands and Rose Blanche-Harbour le Cou. The whole road is barely over 40km in length so it seemed like a nice last side trip to make.
After another boring stretch of the TCH we entered the Codroy Valley, a rather beautiful part of the southwestern Newfoundland. This is the area that woke us up upon arrival to the island, as it’s quite close to Port Aux Basques. The weather was remarkably pleasant, blue skies and bright sunshine all around. The gulf on the west was reflecting the sunlight like a mirror, and the mountains on the east were rising majestically above ponds and wetlands. Alex took out the GoPro and the monopod and shot some videos, which still need to be edited, but some screenshots make worthy snaps.
When we finally reached Port Aux Basques it was around 6:30 pm and we leisurely rode into a gas station to refuel. Kind of missed the exit at first, so had to take a shortcut over a lawn to get to it ;). That’s where I finally took out my phone to check mail, only to find a fresh notification that our ferry is now rescheduled for 8:30 am. While this would leave us plenty of time to explore the area, it also would create two significant problems. 1) we would not be able to make it to our next destination from North Sydney before nightfall (we had a hotel booked in Saint John, NB) and a much bigger problem 2) where would we spend the night? The most recent info on their website stated there was a ferry leaving at 8pm, so we scrambled to the port to see if we could take it instead.
Isle aux Morts and Rose Blanche are now on the long list of things we did not visit, but after about half an hour of riding around the port and talking to various employees of Marine Atlantic we had our boarding passes for this earlier ferry. The last control booth was the funniest one – they asked if we were carrying any potatoes. Cleared of any concerns, we headed into the ship’s belly to grab the last two tiny spots available on the vehicle deck. We would not have been able to fit if we were on a full sized car, they literally had just those two spots left, only big enough for bikes! There was plenty of room on the passenger decks, but clearly it’s the vehicular cargo capacity that is the bottleneck on this route. The boat started moving just as we were walking up to our seats – a full hour ahead of the time posted online. It was one of the closest cuts we’ve ever made! As the boat started coming out of the harbour I went outside to snap a few last photos of Newfoundland under the setting summer sun.
This time we got even less rest than on the trip to the island. The sun has just set and it was too early to try and sleep. When we arrived at North Sydney it was not even 3:30am, complete darkness all around and the whole town was empty and silent. The cars coming off the ferry quickly took off and left North Sydney, but we were not up for riding through the night. We picked up some snacks and beverages from a convenience store in a gas station and wondered if anything else would be open at this hour. There was a 24 hour Tim Hortons nearby and we decided to go there and wait until sunrise.
When we found it, turned out the 24 hour schedule applies only to the drive through, the rest of it opens at 5am. So we hung around the parking lot until it finally opened, at which point we came inside and I got a cup of hot tea and a panini. Maybe it was the lack of sleep, or maybe they really do make some of the most tasteless food around :(.
Somewhere around 5:30am we headed out aiming to reach Saint John as quickly as possible. That did not mean going particularly fast, but rather stopping less and not taking any side trips. It was a rather miserable morning, cold and foggy, and the roads getting out of Cape Breton were frequently reduced to one way traffic due to construction. We definitely had plenty of time due to our early morning start, and even considered passing Saint John and continuing on, but had to let go of that idea since we realized how tired and prone to mistakes we were. We stopped for lunch in Truro, a town on Trans Canada Highway midway between North Sydney and Saint John. It was a funny detour as we accidentally turned the wrong way on a one way street, to the amusement of the locals travelling towards us.
The cook at the cafe bakery we stopped at was very friendly and even told us some stories about Newfies passing by through the town on the way to explore the rest of the continent. I suppose many choose this town as a stop over after a draining ferry ride ;).
We were on track to get to Saint John way ahead of schedule, so I called the hotel to make sure our room could be ready even if we get there before official check in time. They had no problem with that, and as soon as we got there, we were promptly checked in, parked our bikes by the entrance and headed up to relax.
In retrospect, it was the best possible choice of a hotel, though I certainly did not expect it to be that appropriate at the time of booking. Although it was an upscale Hilton, it was actually one of the cheapest rooms we got during the trip. Not because it was cheap in itself, but because Newfoundland is much more on the expensive side :-/. Spacious room, big soft bed, it was a perfect place for the 10 hour nap we so desperately needed.
I was half expecting to wake up around sunset and maybe go for a walk around the city, but when I did finally wake up, it was past midnight. We made some tea and coffee using the hotel’s supplies and then Alex managed to convince me to go downstairs and lube the bikes’ chains (it was all under the pretences of retrieving the USB charger we accidentally left there, didn’t want it getting damaged in the possible rain). With not much else to do, we went back to sleep afterwards, dozing off just as quickly as the first time.
I’m not 100% sure if the hotel really did not offer complimentary breakfast, or if they just did not advertise it, but after spending so much time sleeping we wanted to go out and see at least a little bit of this new city. We found an Italian sandwich place that only serves breakfast on Saturdays, and voilà, this was Saturday.
After a short stroll around the downtown and the harbour, it was time to pack up and go. All said and done we left around noon, after spending 21 hours in the hotel 😉
We crossed the United States border at Saint Stephen. The border guard was much friendlier than the ones we met in Niagara Falls and Buffalo over numerous previous crossings, didn’t even ask us to take off our helmets and waved us both to come in at the same time. He didn’t ask us to recite our plate numbers and instead just stepped out of the booth and looked at them himself. Seems like a small thing, but when I bought my bike in Ohio just a few months ago and was crossing the border into Canada with a freshly minted temporary plate, the question “What’s your plate number?” from the Canadian border official left me deeply puzzled :S. We stopped for lunch somewhere in Maine, and continued on to New Hampshire. We took secondary roads towards White Mountain National Forest, hoping to make it to Mt Washington, but seeing lots of other cool things along the way.
By the time we got to Mt Washington it was past 7pm, and apparently they only accept visitors until about 4:30. As we were turning around to head back, we noticed something strange. A few Tesla Model S cars pulled in, attempting to gain entrance, unsuccessfully. They were soon joined by a few more, and within minutes there were a couple dozen of them, stretching in front of the park gates. Hey, it’s tough to make it on time when you are in a group of 20+ cars, and have to wait for that one guy that has to pee every 20 minutes 🙂
We continued south on route 16 that passes through the forest, and then took another scenic road, 302, on our way to Lincoln, NH. Although it’s not that close to anything specific we wanted to see, it was one of the few motels that showed up online as available. As we rode through the area though, we saw lots more hotels and resorts of all kinds. It’s a pity we did not know about them ahead of time, but the one we stayed in was passable, although it was completely dark by the time we got to it.